There are tests, such as blood tests, x-rays, and imaging studies, available to diagnose most physical disorders and ailments. The same can’t be said for psychological conditions such as depression. For diagnosing depression, most doctors look for a pattern of signs and symptoms that suggest the diagnosis – rather than a medical test. This could change in the future, as researchers come closer to developing a more objective test to diagnose depression.
A Test for Depression on the Horizon?
Dutch researchers recently discovered a sequence of blood cell genes that can successfully identify a person with major depression. This concept of using “gene profiling” to diagnose depression could offer a more objective way for doctors to tell who’s depressed and who isn’t, so that treatment can be used more judiciously. Some of the medications used to treat depression have significant side effects; and a test for depression could help doctors better determine who actually needs them.
Other Advantages of a Test for Depression
Making the diagnosis of major depression is a challenge, since the signs and symptoms of depression can be subtle – and some patients are hesitant to discuss them with their doctor. Some of the less obvious symptoms of depression include a loss of interest in regular activities, decreased appetite, low self-esteem, and a low energy level.
To attribute symptoms, such as these, to depression requires that they be present on most days for at least a fourteen day period – along with other characteristic symptoms of depression. Physical conditions that could cause these symptoms must also be excluded through lab tests and a thorough physical exam. Making the diagnosis of depression isn’t an exact science – and a test for depression could help to make the challenge of diagnosing depression a little easier.
Tests to Diagnose Depression
A blood test to diagnose depression isn’t available yet, but most doctors still do certain blood tests to exclude conditions that can mimic depression. Some examples are a complete blood count to look for anemia, a blood glucose check to rule out diabetes, and a thyroid function test to check for an under-active thyroid.
It’s also important to check blood levels of certain vitamins and minerals, particularly vitamins B6 and B12, which can cause symptoms of depression. A chemistry panel is usually done to check kidney and liver function. Once these results are known, the doctor has the challenge of deciding whether the symptoms are truly due to depression.
A Test to Diagnose Depression: The Bottom Line?
Hopefully, future research will make it possible to diagnose depression more easily – through the use of blood tests. It would still be important to correlate findings of a test with clinical symptoms, since no blood test is entirely accurate. A blood test for depression would provide one more piece of information that could be used to help depressed people get the help they need.
Eurekalert website. “A blood test for depression?”